Core. Core. Core. We all hear it and we all know we need to strengthen it but do we? I know that for the first two-year in this sport my core work consisted of some crunches here and there and would ignore it other than that. I knew it was important but who has time for core work when you are riding for 3 hours and then running for 30 minutes. Core work was ignored when I got in the pool to swim 4000 yards. I didn’t know it but I was sabotaging (unlike Bill Callahan) my performance in the sport of triathlon. I felt fit and looked fit and had some decent races but maybe I could have been faster, and looking back at it there is no doubt about it. The worst part is that all it takes is 15 minutes per day to get a stronger core. Of course, abs/core are also made in the kitchen and cleaning up your diet will aid in the strengthening of your core, which by the way are the muscles from your shoulders to your thigh and not just the abs.
When I started with Maria and John getting a stronger core was something they had planned for me and I was fully on-board. In one of our first meetings I asked Maria to put together specific core exercises and input them into Training Peaks. The reason I asked her to do that was because if it was in Training Peaks and from my coach I would do it. I am very good at taking instruction and if it’s there it gets done. So with that being said the core work started showing up and so did the results. Results not only in a slimmed down waist but in my performance. I was swimming faster with much less effort than ever before. The riding felt better too and then to be able to run fast without carrying extra weight was a real boost. This whole core work thing was starting to make sense and before you know it we were posting about it on Facebook.
The start of a conversation morphed into a group called the 30 Day Ab Challenge-Core Work on Facebook that now has 42 members. The goal is to do 30 days straight core work for ONLY 15 minutes per day. That is nothing but the benefits are tremendous. Getting the motivation from the group to get the work in is terrific plus there are 41 other accountability partners and posting your done for the day is a huge confidence boost. As we all know confidence breeds confidence. Join the group and get on that path to a stronger core.
Now we all know it from a look and feel stand point but here are some of my athletic reasons as to why your core should not be ignored:
This is hard enough as it is, if you are not a born swimmer, but it doesn’t have to be. The one sport where I found that efficiency means the most is swimming and a strong core means a more efficient swimmer. I have noticed that when I swim now my hips are elevated and my feet rise toward the top of the water and I believe it is because my abdomen is closer to my spine thus creating a push down on my chest. This puts me in a position to be a more efficient swimmer and my times are reflecting this theory, but it is more than my times. When I am done swimming a long set in Z2 (for example 1500 yards) I don’t finished nearly out of breath with a burning sensation in my shoulders. I finish in a more relaxed state ready for the next set and feeling strong.
As triathletes we spend the most of our training time on the bike but sometimes we aren’t always comfortable in that position for long periods of time. It can be a fit issue, but if the problem persists it is probably because your core is not as strong as it should be. In addition to that you are probably not as flexible as is necessary and that is causing a tug and pull on your muscles. I have gone on 3 and 4 hour rides in the past few weeks with a group called Dallas Athletes Racing, and they might as well be racing. These guys are fast on the bike and the first time I went out with them I basically held them back (there were only 4 of us.) The next time I joined them (there were about 15 people) I was literally chasing them all over North Dallas but the beauty was that when the ride was over the run felt good. I left my prescribed HR Zones a few times (sorry Maria) but I never felt out of breathe or winded and the best part was my hip flexors felt great as did my neck muscles from being in aero. I know that at this time last year that was not the case and again I point to the fact that I am actually working my core muscles these days.
If you want some cycling specific core work try doing a Superman (alternating) which attacks the lateral motion as your body moves side to side on the bike or a more comprehensive movement like the Fifer Scissors which targets key cycling muscles.
This has always been the sport that I did the best at and so we are not focusing as much on it but that doesn’t mean it is being ignored. My runs are typically 15-30 minutes as a transition run off the bike with a long run in the area of 1-1.5 hours. I have seen my speed pick up while my heart rate has stayed the same and I don’t feel as if I am pulling extra weight. When I start my run I immediately bring my belly button toward my spine and now it is no longer a chore to hold it there. When I feel my self slowing down I notice that my core is not as engaged which leads to a small spike in my HR. Once I realize what is going on I bring my core back in and there is a stabilizing effect to my speed and heart rate. Now I may not be running as much but my running is not being ignored because of the core work that is being done.
When you are working your core you don’t have to do it for hours on end. As I said I do 15 minutes (sometimes 18-21) per day and I get a full range of exercises in that help me with my swim, bike and run. Here is a very easy way to take the 6 workouts above and get 18 minutes of core work in. Start with the 1st swimming exercise and do it for 1:00 (really only about :55 as you transition to the next exercise) and do the 1st cycling for 1 minute and then the 1st running then start again. If you do that for 3 sets you will have gotten in 18 minutes of core work while always moving and changing the muscles you are working. Not only that but you will be working on your flexibility which is another key to core strength.